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Get control of NAS systems

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With file storage sprouting up like weeds, data storage shops are grappling with managing multiple disparate NAS systems. But you can fight NAS sprawl with a number of technologies.

At the end of 2008, Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC reported that for the first time ever, more data was stored on network-attached storage (NAS) systems or filers than on storage-area network (SAN) storage. In addition, IDC's more recent forecasts predict an acceleration of this trend. It's not only the number of files growing, but their size as well.

All of this translates into more installed NAS systems. Adding more NAS systems is an understandable reaction to file growth as network-attached storage systems are typically self-contained and preconfigured for rapid installation, and are easy to implement, operate, manage and use. But most traditional NAS systems are also silos, so they contribute to NAS sprawl. The consequences of NAS sprawl can be summed up by the often-repeated adage, "I loved my first NAS filer, I really liked my second, but by my tenth I was pulling my hair out."

Five ways NAS sprawl causes problems

NAS sprawl generally creates five major IT challenges (these are the biggies; there are others as well). All of them are complicated by the limited number of tasks a data storage administrator can complete in a given time, and they're all pretty difficult.

1. System management. Even though NAS management

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is far simpler than SAN storage management, it still requires some care, feeding and time.

2. Managing client and application access to data. Each NAS system must be mounted on every server and workstation that requires access. Mounts are application disruptive so they require scheduling downtime for the server applications. With more NAS systems you have more mounts, and that adds up to more scheduled downtime.

3. File location. Policies for file placement must be set based on performance, accessibility, age, access frequency, storage cost, availability, data protection and so forth. Policy setting is the easy part, but actually moving the files to the appropriate NAS system is a time-consuming manual data migration process. And it's an ongoing one. When the migration is done, the originating application must be re-pointed at the correct NAS system; this isn't such a big deal with a couple of NAS systems, but it's compounded as NAS systems are added.

4. NAS load balancing. Load balancing is required to get better utilization or to meet applications' performance requirements. Because load balancing is also a manual process to set up and manage, it becomes a major time sink even if you have identically configured NAS boxes.

5. Protecting, replicating and/or backing up files. Different NAS systems have different methods for snapshots, continuous data protection (CDP), mirroring and replication. Some are well integrated with common backup vendors, such as Windows Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), VMware or Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenServer, but others aren't. So there are more tasks requiring more time, training and experience. Even with identical NAS systems, they still require separate touch points for each data protection setup, operation and management.

These challenges get more difficult, take more time and make it more likely that errors will occur as NAS sprawl grows.

This was first published in February 2010

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